THE HIDDEN HARMS OF TV DRIVEL

7 08 2010

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(In this case the TV show Mad Men)

TV is so pervasive as to be inescapable in the USA in 2010. (E.g., videos by young folk on YouTube are often virtually incomprehensible because their makers unthinkingly recorded the video with TV chatter competing with them in the background. TVs bolted to the wall unroll endless drug company spiels in doctors’ waiting rooms.)  Any medium that is that pervasive, and that is commonly absorbed that unthinkingly, has great potential for harm.

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Here’s one of the bloggers  who write so well I always quote them in full, commenting on a New York Times column about the show Mad Men:

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Jon Jost
Matera, Italy
August 1st, 2010
6:24 am
The “prevailing ethos that style and cool trump all” is a ringing indictment of America’s cultural hollowness. A hollowness which has driven us into unfunded wars (have fun paying for it, children), to an economic system which glorifies image while having carved out the substance of our economy, to a constant white-noise of trivialization (of which this column is a perfect example) which drowns out all seriousness and reduces life to a recitation of brand names and logos. We’ve been corporatized so that a TV critique of our mores becomes chic and hip, and we glorify the grisly reality that we’ve all been turned into whores: to business, to the government, to style, to ourselves.

What is mad about Mad Men is that we can no longer get mad – too uncool.

www.jonjost.wordpress.com
www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com

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Impassioned, yet commendably brief, Jon.

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Dumb and Dumber

22 07 2010

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Please check out this blistering video by George Carlin, who was almost always funny, and ALWAYS thought for himself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q

Then read this blistering comment by Timothy Egan on one of our worst Senators:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/weather-bane/

and, finally, this blistering explanation of why the standard stratagems of that wretched Senator and his ilk always work:

http://community.nytimes.com/comments/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/weather-bane/?permid=5#comment5

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Overstated? Sure! To a degree.

But lurking in all three of the above comments from smart, thoughtful people is  the sadness of a common disillusionment. The Official Political Faith of America is representative democracy. Most pointy-headed intellectuals subscribe to this faith just as much everyone else here does, including the self-described Palinesque “real people”.

That’s why we American brainiacs are necessarily condemned to lead lives of serial disillusionment. Over and over again, from the Willie Horton lie against Michael Dukakis in 1988, through the Swift Boat lie about John Kerry, to the “death panel” lie last summer against health care reform, we have had to watch millions of voters jump on absurd lie after lie and make it their own, without investigation or even the application of minimal common sense about what’s likely — and what’s not likely — to be true.

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Now lots of The Folks here in the USA are swallowing the lie that human-caused global warming is a lie. The vast majority of climate scientists tell us that global warming is happening.  A few outlier scientists say it may or may not be happening.  Right now, most of the Folks believe the tiny minority, and even blowhard opportunists like Senator Inhofe who say it’s definitely not happening, over the majority of scientists.

“Why oh why does this always happen?!” we propeller-heads cry, aghast.

The reasons are not hard to find:

1.) One half of all people have an IQ of less than 100*;

2.) The United States has the best public relations people (i.e., liars for hire) on earth; and

3.) The United States has the most militantly self-righteous rich people on earth, and they have lots to lose** if the global warming problem is acted upon, plus virtually endless supplies of money to pay to the  2)  folks to lie to the  1)  folks.

See, no mystery at all!

But for many of us the sadness remains. And so does a great fear. The People really do rule the USA to a degree, and if they are really this easily led by lies, then it’s only a matter of time until the USA does something terminally stupid.

And then the rest of us who live here will have to take the consequences right along with all the the inattentive folks and dingbats who were lied into bringing those consequences about.

I fear that. And I think that global warming is the thing we’re in the process of making our terminal mistake about now.

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*      Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IQ Tests –  (median = 100)

Granted, most people who fall below 100 I. Q. fall within 15 points of the 100 norm. Other factors unique to the USA, however (e.g., ever-increasing work hours, the innate sensationalism and superficiality of our for-profit TV news, etc.), make REAL FACTS hard for all of us to come by. See the first and second urls above for the most important of the impediments in our society to understanding how it really works.

** from drilling for, refining, shipping, and selling oil, natural gas, and coal; and
from selling all kinds of fun products that run on those energy sources.

But there’s another, more subtle, way that the USA’s current energy-use binge especially benefits our better-off citizens. The USA is a society that puts business at the pinnacle of social activities. And it accordingly makes money the usual measure of our citizens’ worth as human beings. The more money you can make, the more you will be honored. There is no competing substantial, society-wide road to high status (such as, for example, being born into an aristocracy that confers distinction even in the absence of wealth).

So any policy concern that might require a degree of retrenchment of economic activity in the USA to solve is widely denied.  Any kind of economic retrenchment here strikes at the heart of the American version of one of the most fundamental wellsprings of action for all humans and creatures like us.  To rise as high as possible in, or to keep one’s already-high place in, the applicable pecking order is a top priority for every social animal from chickens to humans. Here in the USA, centuries of prosperity arising from having had a whole new continent to exploit have accustomed the folks who possess unusually intense desires of this sort to always “expect the best”.

Our hotdog non-team players, in short, do not want to be made to strut their stuff on a smaller stage.

Here’s a response to Mr. Egan’s commentary that I think illustrates this. It expresses the fury of “Capitalist Prof”, who has accrued a lot of status and status markers that he sees those creepy environmentalists as threatening to take away or devalue: http://community.nytimes.com/comments/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/weather-bane/?permid=194#comment194





MAD CAPITALISM

24 10 2009

A couple of decades ago, certain wealthy interests began buying up radio stations, stripping their staffs down to the absolute minimum needed to function, removing local programming from them, and then borrowing money against them to buy still more stations to add to their collections — and so on, ad nauseum. The cashflow from the stations was very nice for those rich folk, and no-one much cared about all the laid-off employees to whom much of that money had once gone to in the form of salaries.

The radio broadcasting version of the story of American business over the last 40 years, in short.

Later, after this consolidation had gone on for a long time, radio began losing listeners because only a few broadcasting formats were allowed by the amalgamation masters, and younger people were bored with them. For God’s sake, even I, a crusty old bably boomer, don’t want to hear songs from the past over and over and over again, daily and forever.

Now one of those eaters of stations, Citadel Communicatons, seems to be headed toward bankruptcy. Here is an interesting discussion of how the company’s immediate future is likely to play out, from a commentator on the radio business who has been prescient on the future of radio under the amalgamators for years:

http://insidemusicmedia.blogspot.com/2009/10/pre-packaged-bankruptcy-for-citadel.html





HEARTBREAK NUMBER 1

26 09 2009

Herewith the song of my very first heartbreak.

At age 16 it was devastating.

Please ignore the lame stagecraft.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSAvVRgHzl8





KNOWLEDGE v. NO-NOTHINGISM: UPDATE

14 08 2009

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A journalist has done a good job finding the people who started the “death panel” nonsense.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/14/health/policy/14panel.html?_r=1&hp

Republicans, and especially conservatives, have specialized in scaring people at least since the 1980s, most memorably in the “Willie Horton” scare that helped to defeat Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.

The Wikipedia article on “Willie Horton” is informative:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Horton

The misrepresentation concerning Horton and Dukakis was intentional on the part of the Republicans. Look for the name “Lee Atwater” in the Wikipedia article.

I’ve seen this kind of scare tactic used repeatedly by Republicans over my 61 years. Each time the Big Scare is successful I am amazed that people could believe the lie of the moment. Lots of Americans are either stupid and ignorant, I once concluded.

But I think I was unfair in that. Americans can only know the information they’re given. We have a poor education system, and above all a set of media that almost always goes for the most sensational story, and seldom bothers any more to provide background on anything. Go to the websites for major European media, like the BBC (England),  Deutsche Welle (Germany),  and Radio Nederland (Holland), and read and listen for a while. You’ll see the difference.

Why this difference? Why its our old friend PROFIT, of course. In the 1980s and ’90s, as all of US society became much more business-oriented, owners of big media began to adopt the idea that their News Division should become profit centers — no longer the unprofitable public service that they had once been. More profit requires more viewers. More viewers are gotten by showing or printing more sensational,  and less informative, material in the News.

That means there’s not much time for facts in our most of media anymore. It’s as simple as that.

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UPDATE:

“Two minds with but a single thought”:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sue-wilson/its-war-media-war_b_256115.html

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ANOTHER UPDATE:

Another interesting reaction to this story: This one is by the feisty economist / Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/14/opinion/14krugman.html

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PARTING SHOT:

Democratic politicians consistently fail to anticipate the viciousness and sneakiness of Republican attacks (with the notable exception of Mr. Obama in the last election). My favorite theory as to why most Democrats are so dense on this subject is that they fail to step back and take an analytical — in fact, anthropological –, approach to the problem.

If you don’t step outside the American Cultural Box and look at its rather jumbled contents dispassionately, you are likely to consistently miss the fact that Republican laissez faire economics overlap to a degree the most basic form of the foundational myth of American culture, namely the “American dream” (which says that ANYONE who works hard enough can access the opportunities the USA offers and thus become affluent or wealthy.)

If I am poor but believe with almost religious fervor that one day I’m going to be rich, then I won’t be grateful if you create social programs to make the life of the poor easier. I don’t expect to be in that wretched group long enough to enjoy such programs!

And if you tax the rich to pay for such things, then I’m really gonna be pissed off. That’s my future income you’re taking!

You just can’t trifle with a society’s foundational myth without sparking a lot of righteous anger….

Except at those rare times when lots of people wake up and realize that said myth is probably never going to come true in their lives. That happened on a massive scale in the Great Depression. It happened again to a lesser degree during the Viet Nam War in the ’60s — when a lot of draftable young men took notice of the fact that the war could very well kill them before they could even begin their climb toward wealth.

It may be happening again today. Working people may be waking up and noticing the true grimness of their futures in current America. See my post below titled “So THAT’S Why You Both Have to Work!”

This unpleasant awakening from the deteriorating American Dream may be why a lot of people voted Democrat last year.

And it may also be why this year a lot of other people are mobbing health care discussion forums and chanting, “Give us our America back!”

They are in the anger stage of mourning.





KNOWLEDGE v. NO-NOTHINGISM

12 08 2009

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People on the Right have been known to scare us into doing dumb things (Think Iraq war!). A sad current  example of that practice is discussed in the article referenced below. The article explodes the myth that some on the Right have recently created about this one doctor and the larger issues he has taken positions on. The article also explains succinctly why scaring folks works so well so often.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20090812/us_time/08599191583500

And, no, the “Frightening” that the Right has used in the health care debate and elsewhere is NOT paralleled on the Left by warnings about global warming. The difference is that our warnings of global warming are based on the work of LOTS of reputable scientists, while, at least in the case of the doctor discussed above, the Frightening practiced by the Right has generally been accomplished by distorting the facts.

For an authoritative look at the science behind global warming, visit the site of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

http://www.ipcc.ch/

I always give scientists at least the benefit of the doubt, and I usually believe them when their pronouncements make sense in light of the moderate-to-good scientific knowledge I have.

I grew up in a world where extreme moralists were incessantly claiming to speak authoritatively about every aspect of life–from what happens to people after death to whether dancing should be prohibited.

I was troubled by all this hectoring, because I was serious about being a responsible guy, and I wanted to know who to believe. Then I learned about the scientific method and I realized that scientist don’t just make up their pronouncements or take them from ancient books. Instead, scientists actually TEST their hypotheses with real-world experiments, and change their ideas when experimental results require.

And then there is the fact that the child of science, technology, routinely produces new, wonderful things that we can each test for ourselves, and in the process  see the device’s underlying scientific theory  actually working, often spectacularly,  in the real world.

Since its inception around four hundred years ago, experimental science has increasingly routed the practitioners of the traditional “our ancestors believed it so it must be true” school of analysis.

What a relief for any thinking person!





GOOD RIDDANCE TO BAD TV ! – MAYBE

6 06 2009


TV functions as the modern equivalent of the fire that thousands of generations of people sat around each evening for as long as we were us. My guess is that a lot of storytelling always went on in that setting. Most of the stories were probably told by the elders. The stories would be funny or dramatic or sad or uplifting, and many times they would be instructive about how to live in the surrounding society — even if the lesson was only implied. And other members of the family could tell stories too, even the children — getting to be the center of attention and feel important in the family in the process. Storytelling explained the world and passed cultures on in a warm, community-building way.*

Commercial TV, as practiced in the United States since the 1950s, took all that away from us. A brand new kind of mesmerizing ever-changing light for the family to stare at in the evening darkness, it might have been a worthy replacement for the old ways, except for the differences in motivation of the old and new storytelling. American TV has always told stories that were motivated by one single desire — the desire to grab and hold your attention in order to sell you stuff. That means that every aspect of the storytelling art became meretricious. There is little or no “art” per se, left, in fact, because creators don’t get to make decisions freely about what will be in their stories. Choices are dictated mostly by the need to sell, sell sell!

The worst aspect of this is that TV stories have increasingly tried to show the most extreme aspects of everything, because that’s what the manipulators behind them know will grab your attention. That’s why we have so many shows about inherently disgusting things, like serial killers, and how to figure out who killed decomposing dead people. (“CSI” comes to mind.) Cumulatively, this has the subliminal effect of making people believe that crime is much more of a danger to them than it is. We become nervous, ever-watchful, and ever more eager to buy guns to defend ourselves from the unlikely “dangers” that have been made to seem to surround us on every side.

TV stories also routinely misrepresent society, because no-one will be in a buying mood if he’s reminded that he lives in an economically perilous society that cares nothing about him.  So all stories on American TV take place among the upper middle class or the wealthy. Poor people are never mirrored positively, and the reality they live is therefore marginalized. On TV they are nothing, zeroes. That is not good for their self esteem. And their excision from the TV world also subliminally mirrors our society to us in a falsely positive light, promoting right-wing politics.

In the last and worst place, by taking over all storytelling, traditional, non-Internet TV took away from children, and in fact all “everyday” people, the chance to shine in an extended, creative way by successfully telling complete stories. There are only so many pleasures to be had in the course of a human life. We couldn’t afford to lose one that cool.

Now, luckily, the age-old gathering around the fire has been rekindled in the form of the Internet. On sites like YouTube, Twitter, and untold millions of blogs, we can all participate in telling stories again. True, the people who want to “drive” us (as they are tellingly fond of saying) to their selling sites still predominate, but before we could not turn away from their offerings without turning off that hypnotizing central light — a very hard things to do. Now we can flit away in a moment to another web page or video. It is a golden age of information, interaction, and participation.

But unfortunately, in the USA at least, the “driving” power of greed is immense and ever-renewing. We’re seeing ever more elaborate ways being developed to track us as we navigate the Internet, so that, though we may now escape junk programming as we never could while watching TV, we cannot escape advertising**. In addition, watch for sites like YouTube to be increasingly morphed toward the top-down model of program creation. The history of American electronic media is a story of ever-increasing narrowing of the fare that the people who run the media will offer us. (Listen to commercial radio — a selection of stations — for a few days, and you’ll get the idea. In the early years of broadcast radio it offered everything from farm reports to soprano recitals.)

This narrowing reflects the practice of “programming to the lowest common denominator” — meaning only providing stuff that the most unsophisticated viewer could love, on the assumption that everyone else will turn off half his brain and watch it too, rather than have nothing to watch at all. The great virtue of this approach for content producers is that they only have to produce the entertainment equivalent of burgers and fries, yet they will still get big audiences.

For the foreseeable future there will be tremendous pressure from powerful interests to control the Internet and narrow its options so that this time-honored approach can be used on us again. I will fight against that, and I hope you will to.

The best way to do so, IMHO, is to support net neutrality.

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* See this review of a really interesting book:

Review: How storytelling shaped humanity

  • 25 May 2009 by Kate Douglas
  • Book information:
  • On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction by Brian Boyd
  • Published by: Belknap Press
  • Price: $35/£25.95

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227091.900-review-how-storytelling-shaped-humanity.html

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** That is, unless you use Firefox with the add-on called AdBlock installed, in which case you don’t have to see much advertising at all.